Melinda Palacio Named Santa Barbara’s New Poet Laureate
‘The Poetry Connection’ for ‘Santa Barbara Independent’ Will be one of her First Projects
“Santa Barbara is the city that made me a poet,” said Melinda Palacio. Though she studied Comparative Literature at UC Berkeley and got her master’s degree in Literature from UC Santa Cruz, Palacio said, “It wasn’t until I started taking poetry workshops with Perie Longo and Barry Spacks that I started to really take writing of poetry more seriously. And I discovered that I had poems tucked away in different notebooks, but I didn’t think that I would eventually be here three books in and named Poet Laureate.”
Following in the footsteps of Spacks — the late poet who was Santa Barbara’s first Poet Laureate in 2005-2007 — and Longo — the city’s second Poet Laureate who served 2007-2009 — is particularly meaningful to Palacio, who was officially named Santa Barbara’s tenth Poet Laureate by the City Council on Tuesday, April 18. She also cites Sojourner Kincaid Rolle (Poet Laureate from 2015-2017) as a close friend and mentor. “Sojourner has always been a supporter. Her words of advice to me were something along the lines of relax and enjoy my term. She has such confidence in me,” said Palacio.
“Perie Longo gave me a poetic license,” Palacio said, smiling at the memory. “She gave them to everybody in the class, but still, I took that and really believed in it.”
Describing herself, Palacio said, “I’m a poet from South Central Los Angeles and I think it’s an important thing to be a Chicana woman and to see Mexican Americans in this position. And I feel very honored and super excited. Santa Barbara is the city that made me a poet and that makes it especially special,” said Palacio, who came to town in 2000 and initially worked as a journalist at the now defunct Goleta Valley Voice newspaper.
She credits her experiences at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference with helping to kick start her career as a poet. “I think the first workshop I took was in 2003, and I won the poetry award at the conference. From there I was hooked and became addicted to poetry, and how putting your thoughts on paper can honor certain memories or can honor current events or just nature and the beauty around you. Here we are in Santa Barbara, the city itself is a poem.”
Part of Palacio’s duties are to be “a civically engaged poet,” “uplift the artistic achievements of the City and local communities,” and “promote community awareness of the literary arts and encourage community members to develop their own creative interests.”
She said she’s looking forward to bringing poetry to more public spaces in the community with an emphasis on multicultural readings and possible partnerships with our sister cities, as well as more outdoor literary activities that span into a bigger expanse of the city. Palacio is also excited (as are we) to begin contributing a new bi-weekly column, “Poetry Connection” for the Santa Barbara Independent. This will be a combination of her poetry, submissions from other regional poets, writing prompts, and promotion and discussion of other poetry events and literary happenings. Readers can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org with poems and information they want her to consider.
Kicking off our new partnership, we are honored to share “Santa Barbara Is a Poem,” which Palacio wrote especially for her inauguration as Poet Laureate and recited at the induction ceremony.
Santa Barbara Is a Poem
by Melinda Palacio
One winter she shows off like a child playing dress up in a white cape.
From the ocean, admire her gentle powdered peaks, a rare dusting.
Rejoice as water droplets turn to hail, to snow, a rarity in Atzlan.
Chumash land impossible to reach when mud or fire threatens.
Evergreen Pear blossoms fall like feathers, peaceful and soft.
A slight breeze on a Jacaranda and it rains purple. Add leaves,
golden hands, sometimes, bright red, and it’s a fiesta, nature’s party.
Coast Live Oaks grow twisted, rooted like guardian angels. In the wind
King Palms sway, drop fruit from a canopy of prickly crowns.
A blessing, shrouds of gray clouds hide the sky and I
put hands in the earth, pull weeds and prune roses.
Stay still as a rufus hummingbird motors past my ear.
Walk at dusk and the moon rises over Sycamore Canyon ridge.
Wait for the twinkling. Greet the Archer and Seven Sisters.
Santa Barbara eres una poema.
Speaking Spanish in Santa Barbara means home,
negates every time someone has told me to go back where I came from.
I was born in this Golden State, 100 miles south of this paradise.
Santa Barbara, you are a poem.
It’s easy to want it all in this idyllic land.
In my neighborhood known as San Roque, fruit
rolls down: limes, oranges, persimmons, avocados
course around a cul-de-sac, named Lucinda.
When I meet her, the woman named after the street,
she offers me flowers.
My neighbor calls to her young daughter, tells her to bring
a sprig of rosemary from the box marked free, a year-round bounty.
An abundance of treasures from the land soured
by our inability to provide an Eden for all:
Housing, mental health services, jobs
or all who flock to this land we call home.
Santa Barbara is a poem.
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